New Harford County bill would allow Churchville airport to upgrade on ag land

The Harford County Airport's plans to upgrade its facility in Churchville have spurred a bill to change the county's zoning code.

The legislation, which had a public hearing Feb. 17, would revise requirements regarding airport uses to make them conform to state regulations and would also allow more airport uses on land zoned for agriculture by taking out older regulations about flight paths and property setbacks.

Shawn Pyle, president of the Harford County Airport Owners Group, said Thursday the property in Churchville is zoned ag and commercial.

He has been working on plans to convert the three runways into one longer runway, replace old hangars and, perhaps, modernize the management building, which he said floods every time it rains.

Pyle said he asked the county's planning and zoning department to "tweak some of the language to let us complete our facility on the current ag ground."

He said earlier that the three runways, which date to the late 1950s, would be turned into one paved runway that meets Maryland Aviation Administration standards of being at least 3,200 feet long (it is now 2,200 feet) and 75 feet wide instead of 36.

Having one long, north-south runway instead of the three smaller ones would help pilots better navigate the property and would also cut down the airspace over the airport that is needed for approaches and takeoffs by essentially limiting pilots to the left side of the facility.

Pyle said the runway would affect about 1,000 feet of agriculturally-zoned land. The airport has about 80 acres in that zoning classification.

The bill would take out requirements that the takeoff and landing path of aircraft be at least 250 feet above surrounding property, as well as that structures for servicing aircraft must be at least 200 feet from a property line.

The bill also changes some regulations regarding fencing at the airport to make it conform with state regulations.

The bill does not, however, allow more of the airport's commercial operation to take up more than 50 percent of land in a given ag district.

Several months ago, Pyle met with officials from the Maryland Aviation Administration and the Harford County Office of Economic Development regarding the concept, but had yet to make any formal applications for permits.

The airport has been on Aldino Road since 1942, and "we need to do something with the building eventually," Pyle told The Aegis at the time. "The building is just dated."

The public airport is one of two such facilities in Harford; the other is in Fallston (Forest Hill's airport is private). As such, the Churchville facility can get, with good weather, 80 to 100 landings per day, he said.

Planning and zoning department director Pete Gutwald talked about the bill at the Feb. 17 hearing, which did not draw any serious concern from the county council.

He said after the hearing the bill was prompted specifically by the Aldino airport.

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